The whole world is affected by a pandemic caused by the new virus COVID-19. Cases of infection have been reported in more than 150 countries. About 200,000 cases have been reported, 80,000 of which have recovered and more than 8,000 have died of complications caused by the infection. Many governments have declared a quarantine and state of emergency. Contrary to one of the main principles of the European community the EU has decided to close the external and internal borders.
But even in times of such major crises, there are those who are trying to take advantage of the situation. Some are speculating on basic necessities, others are trying to get political dividends.
On March 17, 2020 The Financial Times, citing European External Action Service (EEAS) report, published a piece on Russia’s disinformation campaign related to the spread of COVID-19. 80 cases of disinformation have been detected since January this year. Experts attribute them to fake Russian accounts on social networks, previously seen in the dissemination of reports on the situation in Syria and protests of “yellow vests” in France. The materials were distributed in English, German, Spanish, Italian and French.
This information largely coincides with the statement made by the U.S. Department of State on February 22 that Russia is conducting an active disinformation campaign to shift responsibility for the outbreak of the dangerous virus to the U.S. Apparently the virus was brought artificially by American scientists in order to weaken the Chinese economy. Such assumptions are justified by the fact that, they say, there is a trade war between the U.S. and China initiated by the American president, which is why China has become the epicenter of the disease. Even Bill Gates was paid attention: he was also accused of involvement in the virus creation.
Why would Russia want to do that? In addition to damaging the international image of the U.S., Russian security services are trying to use the pandemic to meddle in the U.S. election campaign, as well as to manipulate public opinion, and to undermine trust the national health systems of the Western countries. In addition, by spreading the disinformation that sows fear, confusion and panic, Russia is shifting the attention of its electorate from internal problems to external threats. As is known, after the collapse of oil prices the economic situation in the country has sharply deteriorated. Only in recent days the Russian ruble has lost 15% of its value against the American dollar. And this all is happening against a backdrop of anti-Russian sanctions.
Russia takes every opportunity to get the sanctions lifted. Not only disinformation campaign, but also European pocket politicians. Such as Waldemar Herdt, a German MP from Alternative für Deutschland, who recently said that in such difficult times (meaning pandemic), countries should coordinate their actions, helping each other, and called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia. At the same time, Mr. Herdt modestly kept silent about the reasons for sanctions’ imposition. His statement was immediately replicated by the Russian media. Moreover, the position of one German MP from the frankly pro-Russian party was presented as the position of almost a half of the German parliament. Mr. Gerdt’s commitment to Russia is quite understandable: it is due to his childhood and youth spent in USSR, as well as service in the Soviet army.
So, despite Vladimir Putin’s many statements about the ineffectiveness of the sanctions, Moscow is making enormous efforts on order to lift them, calling for joint efforts in the fight against the pandemic caused by COVID-19.
And how does Russia itself fight the deadly virus? Everything here is very ambiguous. To believe the official data of March 18, there are 114 cases in Russia. The country’s leadership claims that the epidemiological situation is under control. However, there is a very questionable fact that, for example, in neighboring Estonia, with a population that 140 times smaller than in Russia, there are twice as many ill ‒ 225. And this is despite the fact that Russia shares a land border with China. But the statistics of COVID-19 cases here for some reason is much less than in other countries. At the same time there is a sharp increase in mortality from viral respiratory infections.
So what is the reason for such a low rate of COVID-19 spread in Russia? It is extremely simple. On April 22 this year a nationwide vote is scheduled on amendments to the Russian Constitution, the adoption of which will allow Putin to finally usurp power. It is clear that panic in the country on the eve of such an important event is extremely unwelcome. And since it so happens that the operation of keeping Putin in power coincided with the “perfect storm” ‒ a global pandemic ‒ the statistics for the infection with the dangerous virus are strictly controlled by the Russian leadership and special services, in order to prevent the spread of panic and the breakdown of the plebiscite.